Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rock Mining

In another sign that space mining may be, you know, a real thing, check out this press release from a new venture company called Deep Space Industries. Like Planetary Resources (a company backed by Google directors and James Cameron), this company aims to find asteroids and other planetary bodies in the solar system containing valuable minerals and hauling them back to near earth orbit.

I'll let you read the press release and watch the promo video, but this is interesting for a variety of reasons.

First off, the idea of a company using drones and robotic crafts to find and mine asteroids is an important first step to any other serious exploration of the rest of the solar system. It is just incredibly expensive in terms of fuel to lift resources from the surface of Earth into space. Leaving aside the mineral wealth that such rocks might contain, finding an asteroid with water would enormously helpful.  Water wouldn't simply be important for life support in space but, split into hydrogen and oxygen, constitutes one of the best sources of reaction mass in space.

Also, asteroids provide an important shield from radiation. One can easily imagine using a 'cored' asteroid as a carapace for a journey to the other planets, the rock protecting astronauts from solar flares and cosmic radiation. The immense space within the body could house colonists, infrastructure and fuel, as well as staving off the lethargy and physical deterioration observed in astronauts on extended missions into space.

Pure speculation, but this is one of those things that makes me sincerely happy to be alive right now. None of this is going to happen tomorrow, but all of it could happen sooner than we might think.
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